Courtesy of UCR Today
Courtesy of UCR Today

Susan Wessler, a UCR genetics professor, Richard Cardullo, the faculty director for University Honors and Jim Burnette, the director of the Dynamic Genome Program, have nominated four undergraduate students for fellowships funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), as part of its Exceptional Research Opportunities Program (EXROP). The four recipients are Alyssa Rodriguez, Jaime Coronado, Katherine Espinoza and Thomas Rodriguez.

Students are only allowed to apply for the fellowship if nominated by an HHMI researcher, professor, director of an HHMI-funded program or a faculty member at a Science Education Alliance (SEA) school.

“With the EXROP fellowship, these four students will be working in the very best biomedical labs in the country and rubbing elbows with top graduate students and postdoctoral associates. Based on the experiences of past EXROP recipients from UCR, each of the recipients will return to UCR in fall 2016 with a new perspective on research and their place in the scientific enterprise,” said Wessler.

Every year, around 125 undergraduate students are selected for the fellowship. Each fellowship comes with a $5,000 living stipend, provides the opportunity for students to work in research laboratories with scientists from around the country as well as the opportunity for students to attend two meetings at HHMI’s headquarters where they will present their research. The EXROP fellowship is fitted for students who are from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in science fields and students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Alyssa Rodriguez, a third-year neuroscience major, will be studying the development of the skeletal system at Boston Children’s Hospital with Dr. Matthew Warman. Rodriguez is the director-in-training for the dynamic genome outreach and a Mecca Mentor for the Association of Women in Science. In addition, Rodriguez serves as a university laboratory assistant for the dynamic genome.

Third-year honors biochemistry major Jamie Coronado, will be researching chemical biology; specifically, chemistry within cells, how molecules self-assemble and if there are other ways of storing genetic information. He is a transfer student who was a part of the UCR Summer Bridge to Research program and worked with Dr. Bradley Hyman.

“I am excited to have a renowned mentor, an HHMI scientist. It is a great opportunity to learn from a great scientist, not just lab techniques but learn how to think and act like a scientist. Being in a classroom is different from having hands-on experience, research is a whole other ball game,” said Coronado.

Katherine Espinoza, a third-year honors biochemistry major will be doing genetics research on neurodegenerative diseases at the University of Michigan with Dr. Vivian Chung. Espinoza is a science ambassador and a member of the Well Christian Club. She is also involved in UCR’s Dynamic Genome Program where she studies citrus genomes.

Tomas Rodriguez is a third-year honors biochemistry student with an emphasis in medical science. He hopes to study human anatomy and physiology in areas that may lead to finding cures for human diseases as a part of his fellowship. “I believe that this program will make me a very competitive student, while also giving the greatest opportunity to work with high-level scientists at top schools,” said Rodriguez.